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   Chapter 17 No.17

The Trumpeter Swan By Temple Bailey Characters: 9219

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


In the end Randy got his car. And after that he, too, might have been seen running shuttle-like back and forth over the red roads. Nellie Custis was usually beside him on the front seat. She took her new honors seriously. For generations back her forbears had loped with flapping ears in the lead of a hunting pack. To be sitting thus on a leather seat and whirled through the air with no need of legs from morning until night required some readjustment on the part of Nellie Custis. But she had always followed where Randy led. And in time she grew to like it, and watched the road ahead with eager eyes, and with her ears perpetually cocked.

Now and then Becky sat beside Randy, with Nellie at her feet. The difference between a ride with Randy and one with George Dalton was, Becky felt, the difference a not unpleasant commonplace and the stuff that dreams are made of.

"It is rather a duck of a car," she had said, the first time he took her out in it.

"Yes, it is," Randy had agreed. "I am getting tremendously fond of her. I have named her 'Little Sister.'"

"Oh, Randy, you haven't."

"Yes, I have. She has such confiding ways. I never believed that cars had human qualities, Becky."

"They are not horses of course."

"Well, they have individual characteristics. You take the three cars in our barn. The Packard reminds one of that stallion we owned three years ago-blooded and off like the wind. The Franklin is a grayhound-and Little Sister is a-duck--"

"Mr. Dalton's car is a-silver ship--"

"Oh, does he call it that?" grimly.

"So--"

"Was it your own-poetic-idea?"

"Yes."

"And you called Little Sister a duck," she groaned. "And when my little duck swims in the wake of his silver ship, and he laughs, do you laugh, too?"

There was a dead silence. Then she said, "Oh, Randy--"

He made his apology like a gentleman. "That was hateful of me, Becky. I'm sorry--"

"You know I wouldn't laugh, Randy, and neither would he."

"Who?"

"Mr. Dalton."

"Wouldn't what?"

"Laugh."

He hated her defense of young Apollo-but he couldn't let the subject alone.

"You never have any time for me."

"Randy, are you going to scold me for the rest of our ride?"

"Am I scolding?"

"Yes."

"Then I'll stop it and say nice things to you or you won't want to come again."

Yet after that when he saw her in Dalton's car, her words would return to him, and gradually he began to think of her as sailing in a silver ship farther and farther away in a future where he could not follow.

Little Sister was a great comfort in those days. She gave him occupation and she gave him an income. He was never to forget his first sale. He had not found it easy to cry his wares. The Paines of King's Crest had never asked favors of the country folk, or if they had, they had paid generously for what they had received. To go now among them saying, "I have something to sell," carried a sting. There had been nothing practical in Randy's education. He had no equipment with which to meet the sordid questions of bargain and sale.

He had thought of this as he rode over the hills that morning to the house of a young farmer who had been suggested by the genial gentleman as a good prospect. He turned over in his mind the best method of approach. It was a queer thing, he pondered, to visualize himself as a salesman. He wondered how many of the other fellows who had come back looked at it as he did. They had dreamed such dreams of valor, their eyes had seen visions. To Randy when he had enlisted had come a singing sense that the days of chivalry were not dead. He had gone through the war with a laugh on his lips, but with a sense of the sacredness of the crusade in his heart. He had returned-still dreaming-to sell snub-nosed cars to the countryside!

Why, just a year ago--! He remembered a black night of storm, when, hooded like a falcon-he had ridden without a light on his motorcycle, carrying dispatches from the Argonne, and even as he had ridden, he had felt that high sense of heroic endeavor. On the success of his mission depended other lives, the saving of nations-victory--!

And now he, with a million others, was faced by the problem of the day's work. He wondered how the others looked at it-those gallant young knights in khaki who had followed the gleam. Were they, too, grasping at any job that would buy them bread and butter, pay their bills, keep them from living on the bounty of others?

He felt that in some way the thing was all wrong. There should, have been big things for these boys to do. There seemed something insensa

te in a civilization which would permit a man who wore medals of honor to sell ribbon over a counter, or weigh out beef at a butcher's. Yet he supposed that many of them were doing it. Indeed he knew that some of them were. The butcher's boy, who brought the meat over every morning to King's Crest, wore two decorations, and when Randy had stopped for breakfast supplies, the hero of Belleau Woods had cut off sausages as calmly as he had once bayonetted Huns.

Randy wondered what the butcher's boy was feeling under that apparently stolid surface. Was his horizon bounded by beef and sausages, or did his soul expand with memories of the shoulder-to-shoulder march, the comradeship of the trenches, the laughter and songs? Did his pulses thrill with the thought of the big things he might yet do in these days of peace, or was he content to play safe and snip sausages?

Randy felt that he was not content. It was not that he loved war. But he loved the visions that the war had brought him. There had seemed no limit then to America's achievement. She had been a laggard-he thanked God that he had not been a party to that delay. But when she had come in, she had come in with all her might and main. And her young men had fought and the future of the whole world had been in their hands, and since peace had come the future of the world must still be reckoned in the terms of their glorious youth.

And now, something within Randy began to sing and soar. He felt that here were things to be put on paper-the questions which he flung at himself should be written for other men to read. That was what men needed-questions. Questions which demanded answers not only in words but in deeds. This was a moment for men of high thoughts and high purposes.

And he was selling cars--!

Well, some day he would write. He was writing a little now, at night. In his room at the top of the Schoolhouse. Yet the things that he had written seemed trivial as he thought of them. What he wanted was to strike a ringing note. To have the fellows say when they read it, "If it is true for him it is true for me."

Yet when one came to think of it, there were really not any "fellows." Not in the sense that it had been "over there." They were scattered to the four winds, dispersed to the seven seas-the A. E. F. was extinct-as extinct-as the Trumpeter Swan!

And now his thoughts ran fast, and faster. Here was his theme. Where was that glorious company of young men who had once sounded their trumpets to the world? Gone, as the swans were gone-leaving the memory of their whiteness-leaving the memory of their beauty-leaving the memory of their-song--

He wanted to turn back at once. To drive Little Sister at breakneck speed towards pen and paper. But some instinct drove him doggedly towards the matter on hand. One might write masterpieces, but there were cars to be sold.

He sold one--; quite strangely and unexpectedly he found that the transaction was not difficult. The man whom he had come to see was on the front porch and was glad of company. Randy explained his errand. "It is new business for me. But I've got something to offer you that you'll find you'll want--"

He found that he could say many things truthful about the merits of Little Sister. He had a convincing manner; the young farmer listened.

"Let me take you for a ride," Randy offered, and away they went along the country roads, and through the main streets of the town in less time that it takes to say-"Jack Robinson."

When they came back, the children ran out to see, and Randy took them down the road and back again. "You can carry the whole family," he said, "when you go--"

The man's wife came out. She refused to ride. She was afraid.

But Randy talked her over. "My mother felt like that. But once you are in it is different."

She climbed in, and came back with her face shining.

"I am going to buy the car," her husband said to her.

Randy's heart jumped. Somehow he had felt that it would not really happen. He had had little faith in his qualities as salesman. Yet, after all, it had happened, and he had sold his car.

Riding down the hill, he was conscious of a new sense of achievement. It was all very well to dream of writing masterpieces. But here was something tangible.

"Nellie," he said, "things are picking up."

Nellie laid her nose on his knee and looked up at him. It had been a long ride, and she was glad they were on the homeward stretch. But she wagged her tail. Nellie knew when things were going well with her master. And when his world went wrong, her sky darkened.

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